This made me smile, albeit wryly.
According to a news report, writes Jonathan Jones in the Guardian,
“…the guards at the National Gallery in London are worried that “dirty old men” are sneaking in to look at Mark Wallinger’s peep show, in which nude models recreate the paintings of Titian…”
Unshaven, gaunt-cheeked men of a certain age (think Albert Steptoe), hands hidden suspiciously deep in the pockets of stained, crusty macs, are prowling the sacred halls of this cathedral to Art in search of titillation?
A Wallinger ‘Diana’ at the National Gallery, London
Fact: men, ‘straight men’ (hate that phrase, with its implications of orthopraxy), like to look at young, naked, nubile women. Always have.
And Art and the purveyors of Art have been one of the major means of allowing them, “dirty” or eminently respectable, to do so.
As Jones says,
“…there’s loads of erotica on view at the National Gallery…”
You don’t need to wander the shady lanes of Soho, shame-facedly incognito; you, sir, can go to the National on a Sunday afternoon in your Abercrombie and Fitch chinos, get a brazen eyeful, and call it ‘culture’.
Diana and Actaeon, by Titian, 1556-9, 202cm x 185cm, The National Gallery, London
As John Berger pointed out, the History of Art as we in the west know it is essentially the History of the Male Gaze: oil paintings in particular have been made in the main by men, at men’s behest, for men’s pleasure. When the Hierarchy of Painting, the classifying of genres according to their ‘respectability’, was formally stated in the 17th century at the (French) Academy, licence to perv was granted officially and unequivocally; top of the list was History Painting, the most ‘morally uplifting’, taking as it did its themes from the Bible and classical history/mythology.
‘Uplifting’ tales, yes.
Also replete with tits and ass.
Examples are, of course, myriad. One ‘theme’, however, caught my eye, in that variations on it appear to be particularly plentiful: Lot and his daughters.
The kernel of the story is this: warned by two visiting ‘angels’ that God is about to destroy Sodom, Lot flees the city with his wife and daughters; the wife, against orders, looks back, sees the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt; Lot and the girls reach a place of safety; the girls ply their father with alcohol, and rape/seduce him in order to get pregnant and continue his line.
Lots, indeed, to discuss here, not least ‘brewer’s droop’; but what’s important is that, in Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) tradition, Lot is viewed as a ‘righteous man’, the founding father through his daughters of the Moabites (ancestors of Christ) and Ammonites; the story is as ‘moral’ as it gets.
Lot and his Daughters, by Wtewael, c. 1595, 205cm x 163cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
“Oh, joy!” thinks the (male, monied) patron of art.
“Not only can I demonstrate my piety (and wealth) to the world, I can also have a bloody massive painting of an old geezer who looks pretty much like me having the time of his life with a bevy of fillies absolutely gagging for it!
Lot and his Daughters, by Furini, c.1640, 123cm x 120cm, Museo del Prado
I’m not man-bashing per se, I’m telling it how I see it.
I like men. Honest.
Hell, I’m married to one.
But the truth is, the porn ‘industry’ is predominantly sustained by this ‘male gaze’. Call it ‘art’, call it ‘erotica’, call it what you will, but men looking at women in this way is, as it always was, an oppressive act; and it is all the more pernicious in that it conditions women to look at other women from the same perspective.
Saying that, I don’t know about you, but I prefer the honesty of an unreconstructed, unmediated “PHWOAR!!” to the insidious, mealy-mouthed, shit-eating expressions of solidarity with the Sisterhood that some men now appear constrained to evince at every given opportunity to prove how ‘right on’ they are.
(That’s right, men! You Can’t Win! ! Feels good, doesn’t it?)
So, Mr Security Guard (you are male for my purposes; yes, it’s ‘unfair’), cut the hypocrisy and give the ‘dirty old men’ a break; who are they, after all? The ones in the too-big raincoats? Or the ones in the Savile Row suits?
And when you go home after a long, tedious shift round the Raphaels and switch on the computer, what do you search for?
Lets face it, ‘dirty old men’ operate within a very ‘grand’ and ancient tradition indeed. And they’re everywhere.
(By the way: ‘dirty old women‘? They rock.)